Not recommended: American Baseline

Summary: Robert Hunt of American Baseline was either negligent or incompetent in handling my situation and I would not recommend other homeowners use his services.

The Longer Version:

One of the annoying things about our lovely new house that I didn’t find out until long after I could actually use the information is that this house is in a flood zone. An AO-1 flood zone and the garage is far short of the permanent open space (venting) required.

Flood insurance–required by all mortgage lenders–usually costs around $500 a year for this size house. Being in the AO-1 zone raises that to almost $1400. Having too little venting increases that by about 50%.

This is in Mountain View, mind you, and so completely ridiculous. What is the source of the flooding threat, according to FEMA? Not Permanent Creek, which literally runs across the back of my property, but ponding from the nearby 101 on ramp. Ha! I say. You cannot tell me that any water wouldn’t flow first to Permanente Creek, which is far closer than my house.

There is the possibility of relief by getting a Letter of Map Amendment from FEMA. This requires submission of an Elevation Certificate prepared by a licensed professional. No one I knew had gone through this so some web searching brought me to Robert Hunt of American Baseline.

Robert claimed over a decade’s experience in preparing these certificates and related matters. His fee was $800 but okay since I’d be saving over $2,000 a year.

I submitted the certificate he prepared and six weeks later got an envelope from FEMA. Happy days, I thought, but instead the letter inside said there were three deficiencies in my request.

I passed the response along to Robert and he sent me back a revised certificate. A few weeks go by and again the FEMA response is there are still two problems.

I sent this to Robert. Now he–from what I could tell–actually read the FEMA letter.

One of the additional items FEMA wanted was a topographical map of my property showing the structure and drainage. Robert said he’d never heard of this being required but it would cost another $1700 to prepare.

I called the company to which FEMA outsources the evaluation of these requests to get an explanation of this out of the blue map requirement. When I first looked into getting the LOMA I had also spoken to someone at this company and he never mentioned needing the map.

I was told that all they needed was a hand-drawn map, not something formal. Phew!

The other issue, though, was that by one of the measurements my house was four inches (out of over 25 feet!) short of the requirement and so my request couldn’t be granted, making the map unnecessary anyway. After a lengthy discussion I came away with the understanding that if a different but still applicable reference monument could be found, I might get past this measurement hurdle.

One of my neighbors was granted a LOMA in 2007 so this seemed like a possility.

I spoke with Robert and he agreed to look for a different reference monument, now that he had the address of the neighbor who got the LOMA. I would have to pay for the extra work, even his time if no monument could be found, and I was okay with that since it would still save a lot of money.

Another monument was found, a certificate was prepared and submitted and–you guessed it–another rejection letter was received. My house was still four inches short, despite getting an additional three plus feet of elevation!

Talking with the FEMA (outsource) rep again he explained that the problem was not the absolute elevation but the relative position of my house to the height of the center of the road out front. This could not really change just from finding a different monument. He claimed to have tried to explain this to me in our previous conversation but from my POV he used language that required a solid grasp property surveying to understand.

A grasp that a layperson can reasonably expect a licensed land surveyor with over a decade’s experience preparing these submissions to have, wouldn’t you say? When I asked Robert Hunt about this he said that wasn’t his to say, that I knew the risk involved and he did what I asked.

When I asked for a refund of the second payment, which was almost as much as the original fee, he said that I knew the risk involved and he did what I asked so no refund.

To me this is a terrible answer. Of course I would like my money back and any no would be bad but in this case I think Hunt is being unprofessional and should give the refund. As with any area that requires extensive training and education, like law, medicine or plumbing, a professional should give clients advice on how to achieve their goal–or if the goal is realistic at all–and not just blithely do useless work.

I do not believe that Robert Hunt did not know that the second round of work was unnecessary, not if he has the professional skill and experience he claims to have. As such I think he acted against my interests; this is neglicence or incompetence but either way I should not have had to pay.